York floods: "I blame global warming – and the Government"

Mike Childs

13 January 2016

"I blame global warming." This was the first thing Tony, a neighbour in my street in York, said to me on Sunday. 

This is the third time his house has flooded in recent times. It flooded in 2000, 2012, and yesterday. Floods that are meant to arrive once in 100 years are becoming commonplace.  And they are causing misery.

York has always flooded. It drains much of the Yorkshire Dales. But as climate scientists will tell you (pdf), there is a direct relationship between a warming climate and more intense rainfall.

For every degree of warming rainfall will be 10 per cent more intense. In other words we are getting more extreme rainfall.

Also, this ridiculously mild winter – it’s been the warmest December on record - means that this winter the rainfall isn’t trapped as snowfall on the hills, it simply runs straight off.

My family and I are lucky, we haven’t been flooded. So far.

The next thing Tony said to me was, “and I blame the Tory Government”. He’d have been more accurate if he’d blamed successive UK governments, and governments across the world, who have done so little to curb dangerous climate change since they first promised to do so in 1992.

The UK’s 2015 winter floods and the other extreme weather we’ve seen across the globe is testament to the human impact of climate change.

And this is just with one degree of warming. Yet we’re on course for 3 or 4 degrees of warming.

So what’s to be done, after the months of clearing up and recovery?

  • First, we need to get tough on climate change. The UK Government has got to stop throwing money after fossil fuels as it cuts subsidies for energy efficiency and renewable energy.
  • Second, we need to spend much more on flood defences.
  • Thirdly, in recognition that the above 2 actions will only get us so far, we’ve got to manage our uplands better to hold back the rain. That means less sheep and more trees. It means rewilding.

You can read more about these in our briefing on flooding, climate change and flood defence (pdf).

Taking these actions won’t stop the misery that Tony and so many others are going through right now. But they will mean that out of the misery some good will come. And they will give cities like York some hope for the future.

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This story was first published on 28 December 2015

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